If excellence lies in overcoming adversity, then Lara makes the cut-off comfortably. His innings in the second Test was played against the tide; by making a terrific hundred, he proved that great batsmen not just win matches but also save their teams from defeat.
The West Indies were squarely on the mat, struggling after following on many hundreds behind. Lara's own form was miserable, as scratchy timing and dismissals to Munaf Patel would suggest. But he put his head down, leaving all flashy shots in the dressing room.
Going against the tide is never easy. When bowlers are on top and the wicket is doing a bit, batting is more about character than skill. Which is why we must celebrate the remarkable skills of individuals who rise above the routine and leave a lasting impact with their extraordinary talent.
Salute the seniors who continue to compete with success in a sport that is getting increasingly faster and younger. Sachin Tendulkar's legacy is not only the millions of runs he scores but also his awesome attitude and commitment, the relentless passion and enthusiasm he brings to the game. When Tendulkar first walked out of an Indian dressing room, Sreesanth was probably not old enough to stay on his feet.
But Tendulkar is still there after 17 years of outstanding achievements, ahead of his colleagues, ahead of the youngsters. Inzamam-ul-Haq, closer to 40 than 30, is another great example of sustained brilliance and elder statesmanlike stature. So is Lara.
Some senior bowlers also defy age and have wonderful records. Glenn McGrath, ancient by current standards, is still an integral part of the Aussie attack. Shane Warne, almost a senior citizen, is pure genius - even Murali the magician is not in the same league as him. Anil Kumble, our agni missile, is special because he wins matches. Every Indian captain tosses the ball to him when wickets are needed desperately; in such situations, VRV/RP and other rookies can remain somewhere in the deep.
Usually, what makes individuals defeat convention is an inner urge, a fierce will and a raging desire to succeed. Most top performers are self-driven, their selfdiscipline undisturbed by activities peripheral to cricket.
Take, for instance, Rahul Dravid, a true professional about whom it is alleged he takes a step - and even breathes - only after doing a swift cost-benefit analysis. So intense is his focus that anything that comes in the way of cricket is immediately rejected.
In the competitive environment of high level sport, only those willing to make sacrifices come good consistently. Cricket is sometimes a picnic (openers feasting on medium-pacers on a flat one-day track, for instance) but the game changes when two wickets have fallen with little on the board before the first drinks in a Test.
Similarly, there is no joy for spinners when the ball, instead of jumping and turning, dies after pitching. Only the genuinely talented rise above adverse conditions and go against the tide.